November 15, 2009

Lakotas sue James Ray

Indian Tribe Sues Self-Help Author Over Use of Sweat LodgeWe previously followed the investigation into the three deaths in a sweat lodge run by “Spiritual Warrior” James Arthur Ray at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in Sedona, Arizona. Now, the Lakota Sioux Tribe is suing, demanding the prosecution of Ray under the 1869 Treaty of Fr. Laramie for appropriating a Native American ritual.

The case is the Oglala Lakota Delegation of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council v. United States, (D AZ, filed 11/2/2009) and relies on the language of the treaty stating:

If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent, and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington city, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.
Ray is the bad man among the whites, they argue. Many would agree with that proposition. The question is whether Ray can self-help himself out of a treaty-based prosecution.

This could make for some interesting litigation. One does not often see prosecutions of people who are defined as “bad men among the whites” in federal court. More importantly, the claim that a sweat lodge is the property of the Lakotas is meritless in my view and would raise serious constitutional questions. Yet, they insist that the Oinikaga sweat lodge ceremony is part of the Lakota’s oral tradition which, according to the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Art. 31, is protected.
Comment:  A slight correction: There are several Lakota Sioux tribes, not just one. And the "Oglala Lakota Delegation" sounds like a group of individuals from one or more Sioux tribes, not a tribe itself.

This doesn't affect Turley's presentation, but it may raise an issue of standing in the courts. Can a delegation claim ownership of a ceremony when the relevant tribe or tribes haven't joined the suit?

I agree that this lawsuit has little chance of going far. It may have value as a PR effort: to raise awareness of treaty rights and cultural appropriation issues.

For more on the subject, see Ray Suspends Money-Grubbing, Native Scorn Ray's Sweat Lodge, and Suing the Sweat Lodge Killer.


dmarks said...

I don't find anything to defend about this guy, but frivolous lawsuit go to far.

What next... will the Catholics file an equally frivolous lawsuit against the Baptists for "stealing" some of their sacraments?

Anonymous said...

Those Sacraments don't kill people..

dmarks said...

Anon, you might want to delete your comment.

One of many baptism death stories.